How reliable are "reputable sources" for medical information on the internet? The case of hormonal therapy to treat prostate cancer Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVES: Prostate cancer patients, as well as their caregivers and healthcare providers, often search the Internet for information about treatment options. We aimed to assess how accurate and up-to-date information about prostate cancer treatments is on websites owned and managed by health-related organizations that most patients and health care providers would consider to be the most trustworthy, based on the reputations of the site providers. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We reviewed 43 noncommercial and easily found websites that offered extensive information on treatment options for prostate cancer patients. To assess how comprehensive the sites were, we focused on the information they provided on alternative hormonal therapies to commonly prescribed luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists, namely GnRH antagonists and parenteral estradiol. RESULTS: Only 14 of 43 websites presented GnRH antagonists as a therapy option for prostate cancer. Sixteen of these 43 websites presented estrogen as a possible treatment option, but only 1 of the 43 websites contained current information on parenteral estrogen treatments. Less than half of the sites provided time stamps indicating when they were last updated. Furthermore, most sites with time stamps were not in fact up-to-date based on the information posted on the site. CONCLUSIONS: Few seemingly reputable Internet sources for medical information provide viewers with the detailed and up-to-date information that they may expect from such sites when searching for alternatives to standard treatment for androgen suppression. Strategies for keeping such websites up-to-date and reliable are discussed. Sites may improve their credibility and usefulness if they (1) present all evidence-based treatment options, (2) regularly update and time stamp their information, (3) acknowledge that their recommendations on treatments may become out-of-date quickly, (4) and direct viewers to information on relevant, active clinical trials. Maintaining high quality sites may ultimately depend on users taking the initiative to inform website owners when their sites are out-of-date.

publication date

  • 2013